When you give to BGR, your gifts travel thousands of miles and land in the hands of trusted national partners. They live and work side by side with their neighbors in need. They’re passionate about serving their people. They’re invested in their communities. And you give them what they need to make a real difference.
In this three-part series, you’ll meet a few of the local heroes who give their time, talents, and lives to raising strong, independent communities.
All it takes to know that is to look around the Mukeu school for children with special needs where she serves as a volunteer and advisor. There are 50 kids with varying degrees of special needs—from Down’s syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia—but they’re able to do a lot.
Some are outside tending vegetables in the greenhouse. A few others are farther on, feeding chickens or cows. They’re in class, counting and learning how to tell time. They high-five visitors to the school. They have challenges, yes, but they have just as much hope.
Before Charity came, the school looked much different. But God has given her a unique perspective that makes her perfect for helping these children.
TIME TO DO SOMETHING
Charity’s father is a pastor who has been involved in planting around 50 churches, and her mother was always actively looking for ways to help people. As a result, Charity said there was a “revolving door” of people staying in their house when she was growing up. People living on the street. Internally displaced people.
“I’ve been exposed to helping vulnerable people since I was young,” she said.
Her parents’ example set her on a path to make community development her career, but she didn’t find her passion for the disabled until she met Steven.
Charity was part of a home health program when she came to the house of Steven, an 8-year-old boy with extreme cerebral palsy. His muscles were so stiff and tight that he hadn’t grown longer than a man’s arm length. He’d had a laryngectomy so he could breathe through a hole in his throat. His mother kept him in the house all the time, trying to protect him from stigma from the community. Even some of his family had never seen him.
Charity’s heart broke for this family. She contacted the Cerebral Palsy Society of Kenya who pulled strings to get a doctor out to see him. A doctor scheduled a surgery to help Steven’s quality of life, but two weeks before the surgery, he died. Charity’s heart broke a second time, but now she knew she had to do something for other children like Steven.
“Where do we take that disappointment?” she asked. “Do we just sit and sulk? There was still time to do something for the others.”
It wasn’t until 2015 when Charity was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that she knew without a shadow of a doubt that her life would be dedicated to helping people with mental illnesses and disabilities. Now, it was personal.
A WELL MAKES A WAY
When Charity came to Mukeu, the boarding school needed a lot of things to help the children. So, she got busy.
She helped the school register with the government as an official “special needs” school, which entitled them to funding and support: teachers, buildings, educational resources. She and the teachers started a sports and music program and refurbished their outdated kitchen. The children started to engage, have fun, even win national festivals. But there was still a problem. The children couldn’t stay at the school forever; they needed to know how to live on their own.
So through engaging volunteers, Charity started pre-vocational farming skills at the school. Learning things like raising animals and greenhouse gardening could help the students and their families have a sustainable source of food and income for years. The gardens also had the added benefit of creating food for the school, which lowered costs.
But there was one thing the school struggled to provide: clean water. And here’s where friends like you come into the story.
At the time, the school only had an open well that students drew water from with a bucket at the end of a rope. It was dangerous. Children were always at risk of falling in. Plus, the water was contaminated because the well wasn’t sealed. When it dried up, the children would have to go to a nearby stream for water, which was dirtier. The kids were constantly getting sick from water-borne illnesses, but the school didn’t have enough money to drill a new borehole.
That’s when Charity was introduced to BGR. When her proposal for a borehole was accepted, BGR funds helped a commercial well-drilling company dig a new borehole. Charity said the effect of the borehole was almost immediate. No more dirty water. Children weren’t getting sick anymore. Hygiene improved. Later, when the school had reduced funding for its meal program, supporters like you helped BGR keep food on the table.
The school paid the gift of clean water forward, giving a primary school of 700 students next door access to the borehole water. The school board negotiated with a high school of 1,000 students to pay a fee for access to the well, which helps sustain borehole maintenance costs.
“The borehole is the center of all the projects because it touches on every single thing,” she said.
WHAT COMES AFTER
With your help, the Mukeu school is a healthy, supportive place for children with special needs to grow and learn. But Charity said the school’s biggest priority is helping students transition back to the community so other children can get the help they need. And that’s a big job.
Poverty in Charity’s region makes life hard for everyone, especially for families trying to raise children with special needs. Sometimes, it’s hard enough just to provide the basics.
“Raising these kids is a secondary challenge,” Charity said.
On top of that, lack of awareness has caused the community to stigmatize those with disabilities. People think a disability is a curse or a punishment for something the parents did wrong. Parents will try to protect their children by keeping them in the house all the time, just like Steven’s mother did with him.
Charity hopes that by teaching children skills like farming and animal raising that the community will see them as productive members of society, and that their families will have a way to care for them for years. Helping in their transition and supporting the construction of a new boys’ dormitory will also help create space for the thousands of children needing special education. The government is even partnering to help build a girls’ dormitory.
Meanwhile, children with special needs aren’t the only ones Charity hopes to reintegrate into her community. Later this year, she’ll start a reintegration project for prisoners coming to the end of their sentences. Like the children, Charity said she sees a lot of undiagnosed mental illnesses in local prisoners, and like the children, they’re equally rejected by their community.
Unfortunately, without a support system, many prisoners end up committing crimes related to poverty and land back in prison, starting a cycle of crime.
She hopes that by reconciling prisoners and their families and giving prisoners marketable skills like making soaps and shampoos, they can have the second chance they deserve.
SALT AND LIGHT
Charity has big plans for her community, and they come with big challenges. But whether it’s expanding the school by building a new dormitory or getting the prison reintegration project off the ground, she said the partnership with BGR gives her hope that God can make it happen.
“Because of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past, it gives me hope,” she said.
And how was it all accomplished? According to Charity, through the small acts of people carrying God’s love into the world.
Every year, a local church that forms most of the school board invites all churches in the region for an annual food fundraiser. Church youth or women groups often drop by to spend time with the children, loaded with bags of food or offering to transport the children for a field trip.
“Mukeu is the result, is the miracle, the evidence of salt and light,” she said. “It is literally run by the church. BGR. Christians literally sacrificing to help the underprivileged.
“Little people doing little things that all come together for something big.”